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Dennis Barger Jr. of Wonderworld Comics in Detroit is known as one of the more…idiosyncratic comics retailers out there. He’s still resolutely anti-digital for instance, and holds many other opinions hat a lot of people disagree with. On his FB page he recently mentioned that he and some other retailers were planning their own retailing group, working name COBRA (Comic Book Retailer Alliance.)
My frustration with much of what is going on in comics has at least in a large part been set in motion for a reversal. When the Beatles wrote “I get by with a little help from my friends” they had no idea the level of people that would one day join forces like a modern day superhero team to form a comic book organization like no other. This group of retailers are unsurpassed in their knowledge of the industry, fortitude of character and strength of their voices. It is my pleasure and honor to team up with Randy Myers, Dominic Postiglione, Larry’s Comics, Jetpack Comics, Jesse James, Chandler Rice, Aaron Haaland and Richard Nelson to start the Comic Book Retailer Alliance. An advocacy group for the protection of the local comic shop (lcs) and the for a future in print comics for all creators. Way more information to come.
In a later post, it was suggested that more would be discussed at Diamond Retailer summit in Las Vegas in May.
As I’ve mentioned before, there have been many comic book store organizations, few of which stuck until ComicsPRO came along. In fact, I seem to recall that there was one called CBRI that some folks called “COBRA”. But there was also PACER, and BACR, and CBIA and ERCBRA and…more. I’m sure. (Google reveals little of these things.) To be a comic book retailer you must be a rugged individualist and that doesn’t always make organizing easy.
This COBRA group includes many of the “Phantom Variant” group, retailers who banded together to crate their own variant covers as a response to the shadowy “Ghost Variants” produced by a separate exclusive group of retailers…did I mention that retailers are rugged individualists?
Anyway, I asked Barger a bit more about this. While some framed this as a move against ComicsPRO—and Barger admits he and that organization don’t see eye to eye on many things—he said that perception was inaccurate. I asked him about individual issues that he felt were important to address: “Digital, actual sell through figures not just what Diamond sold us figures, stocking our stores collectively through outside channels and a few others that we have to flush out a bit more.”
Of course when he mentioned sell through, my ears perked up. Those numbers would be so, so interesting. Barger has a lot of other views on what he sees as a negative trend right now—although he also announced plans to move to a new bigger location, too so things can’t be that horrible.
Fellow proto-COBRA member Jesse James also put a statement on FB:
I would like to state that I joined COBRA to help make this industry stronger with another voice for the Publishers and Distributors to listen to. Though a media release has come out that the group is a defiance to Comicspro or opposition to that organization is far from the truth. Comicspro and its members have achieved much in its years of servitude to the industry. With their past convention in Atlanta, they continue to show their commitment to make this industry better. I look forward in working with the members of COBRA and my continued friendship with many members of Comicspro.
Not sure that was the proper use of “servitude” but ANYWAY.
ComicsPRO is better established than any other industry organization at this point. At last weekend’s annual meeting, participating entities included ctionLab Comics, Anomaly, Archie Comics, Ataboy, BCW, Black Mask Studios, Boom, CGC, Collection Drawer, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Dark Horse, DC, Diamond, Dynamite, First Second Books, Graphitti Designs, GTS Distribution, IDW, Image, Marvel, NBM/Papercutz, ONI Press, ReedPop, Titan,Top Shelf, Valiant, Viz and Zenescope—a pretty strong cross section of the industry and one that seems to be working together on many issues collectively.
That isn’t to say there isn’t room for another group with different aims, however. More to come, as usual.
The 2014 ComicsPRO meeting wrapped up on Saturday and retailer/reporter Matt Price has, as always, a fine recap of what went on. Among the doings, Image publisher ERic Stephenson won the Industry Appreciation Award, which is a leetle ironic since most of the industry definitely DID NOT appreciate much of what he said in his speech . But he’s a mover and a shaker and sometimes you can’t move things without shaking them up. Julius Schwartz won the memorial appreciation award, given for “indelible mark on the profession of comic book specialty retailing.”
In a statement Stephenson said “I’m honored to be the recipient of this year’s Industry Appreciation Award,” said Stephenson. “The retailers who make up ComicsPRO are among the industry’s very best and I think they do some very important work on behalf of comics and the Direct Market, so as awards go, I think it’s really cool.
“I also think that even though it’s my name on the award, it’s actually more of a testament to how far Image has come over the last few years, and that couldn’t have happened without the hard work and dedication of all the talented men and women at Image Comics. Jessica Ambriz, Emilio Bautista, Branwyn Bigglestone, David Brothers, Jonathan Chan, Jennifer de Guzman, Addison Duke, Monica Garcia, Drew Gill, Emily Miller, Patricia Ramos, Ron Richards, Kat Salazar, Jenna Savage, Tyler Shainline, Jeremy Sullivan, and Meredith Wallace don’t get enough credit for the incredible support they provide to all the creators Image works with, but I absolutely would not be able to do what I do without them.”
Reading Price’s report, this sounds like a strong meeting, with publishers like Papercutz and First Second showcasing work that is far outside the superhero mindset. Synamite, IDW and Dark Horse also announced projects like a 20th anniversary Hellboy initiative, IDW’s “Super Secret Crisis War!” cartoon crossover and Dynamite’s Queen Blood book. Diversity continues.
Photo by Matt Price.
SAGA #14 cover art by Fiona Staples
Image Publisher Eric Stephenson delivered a speech to retailers this morning and here’s the text, courtesy of Image comics:
I hope you don’t mind if I deviate from standard practice, but instead of talking about Image Comics this morning, I’d like to talk about you.
This is my fourth year at ComicsPRO, and one of the reasons I keep coming back is because I feel like the retailers who make up this organization have a genuine interest in improving this industry.
We get a lot of great feedback at this event, and I think you only have to look at the many changes Image has made over the last few years to see that it’s feedback we take to heart.
More than any other industry gathering, I feel like a lot of important work gets done here, and I’m proud to be involved in that process.
You talk, we listen, and I think that ongoing dialogue between publishers and retailers is one of the things that make the Direct Market so unique.
Simply put: You care.
As a result, while other stores – other comic book stores, mass-market bookstores, entire chains – have disappeared from the retail landscape, you’re still here, and in many cases, you’re stronger than ever.
Sales will always fluctuate, but given that print was being pronounced dead as early as 20 years ago, the comics market has remained remarkably stable.
It’s funny, when I first started working at Image back in 2001, the bookstore market was just beginning to take comics and graphic novels seriously. Some predicted this would have an adverse effect on the direct market, but you’re still here.
Not too long after that, when digital comics emerged as an alternative to print, there were even more gloomy predictions, but still, the Direct Market survived.
And the Direct Market will continue to survive, as long as there are people like you.
Every publisher here talks to your counterparts in the bookstore market, and do you know what they’re telling us?
They’re telling us graphic novels are one of the only categories of print publishing that is growing.
That’s something you should be proud of, because while a growing graphic novel section in your local Barnes & Noble might not seem like something you should be happy about, you can rest assured that even the largest of those graphic novel sections is smaller than your own.
Even though, on the surface, it may seem discouraging that sales for graphic novels are soaring on Amazon, what that really means is that the audience for comics is continuing to grow.
And it’s our job – yours, mine, all of ours – to figure out how to reach that growing audience and drive them to the Direct Market, because as bookstores continue to close and chains continue to disappear, the best place to get comics in the future will continue to be the best place to get comics now:
And I want to make your stores stronger.
Now, you probably already know this about me, but I’m not particularly content with the status quo.
We know what this business was like in the past, and it’s plain enough to see how it is now.
What we should be focusing on is the future.
We should all be challenging ourselves to make things better, and I want to challenge us all to build a better industry.
One of the first things we need to do is stop looking at the comics market as the “big two” or the “big three.”
There are only two kinds of comics that matter: good comics and bad comics.
Everything else should be irrelevant.
So stop letting publishers lie to you and deceive you and your readers so they can prop up their position in this industry in their craven attempts to appease shareholders.
That may help them in the short-term, and maybe it puts an extra couple coins in your change purse at the end of the week, but the reality of the situation is they have literally everything BUT your best interests at heart.
It starts with bi-weekly and weekly shipping and it extends into pricing.
Are $4.99 and $7.99 comics going to help our industry in the long run?
No, but they sure help the bottom line at the end of the year.
Same with gimmick covers and insane incentives to qualify for variants that will only have a limited appeal for a limited amount of time.
Everybody moans about variants, but here’s the honest to goodness truth:
You stop ordering variants; we’ll stop making them.
They are only produced to shore up market share, that’s it and that’s all, and when used in conjunction with quantity-based incentives, they don’t sell more comics, they just result in stacks of unsold books that send the wrong message to your customers about the titles, your stores, and our industry.
That type of marketing is built on short-term sales goals that do little to grow and sustain readership, and it’s a trick that’s been done to death in other industries, to diminishing returns.
If you want an example of how this works outside of comics – just look at the music industry, where they’ve nearly re-issued, re-mastered, and re-packaged themselves into an early grave.
Box sets, deluxe sets, double-packs, multi-packs, and premium prices for premium packaging. In an age where virtually everything is available digitally and for less money, the record companies chose to milk their nostalgia-starved customer base for every last penny, and look where it’s gotten them.
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Beatlemania is only going to line their pockets for so long, and there are only so many “unreleased” Hendrix albums that are going to bring people in the door of the precious few record stores that are left standing in the wake of years of short-term thinking.
But that’s the music industry.
We can do better than that.
If we seriously want a better comics industry, the number one priority of every single person in this room should be the sustainability of this medium and the vitality of the marketplace.
Constantly re-launching, re-numbering, and re-booting series after series, staging contrived events designed to appeal to a demographic destined only to a slow march toward attrition, and pretending that endless waves of nostalgia for old movies, old toys, old cartoons, and old video games somehow equals ideas or innovation will not make us stronger.
Nostalgia has its place, and I’ll admit, there can be a certain sepia-toned appeal to fondly looking back on our younger, more innocent days, but if we want this industry to outlive us, we have to start looking at things like grown ups.
Superheroes are great.
I grew up reading superhero comics.
But over the years, when the writers and artists and editors and publishers I looked up to talked about advancing the medium, about producing more challenging content, and creating comics that appealed to adults, never once did I mistake what they were saying to be, “We need to find a way for superhero comics to appeal to more adults.”
This is the comic book industry, not the superhero industry, and if we want to stick around for the long haul, we need to recognize that and capitalize on that, because as much as I fond as I am of the superhero comics I read when I was younger, the full scope of what comics are and what comics can be is what will ultimately bring the world into your stores.
Right now, the fastest growing demographic for Image Comics, and I’m willing to speculate, for the entire industry, is women.
For years, I’ve listened to people talk about bringing more women into the marketplace.
Over the last few years, with your help, we’ve been doing exactly that.
You’ve seen the audience that’s building up around SAGA. You’ve seen how female readers respond to books like SEX CRIMINALS, LAZARUS, VELVET, PRETTY DEADLY, ROCKET GIRL, and RAT QUEENS, and one of our best-received announcements at Image Expo was Kelly Sue DeConnick’s new series BITCH PLANET.
We’re not the first to put out material that appealed to women – there’s a whole roomful of incredible people I wouldn’t be able to look in the eye if I made that kind of ludicrous claim – but I think we are among a select group in this industry who realize that there’s more to gain from broadening our horizons than by remaining staunchly beholden to the shrinking fan base that is supposedly excited about sequels to decrepit old crossovers like SECRET WARS II.
It is comics like SAGA that get new readers in your door.
I know this, because I have met SAGA readers.
They read SAGA, they read RACHEL RISING, they read Julia Wertz, they read FABLES, they read Nicole Georges and Kate Beaton, they read Hope Larson, Jeffrey Brown, and LOVE & ROCKETS…
They read all of that and more, but even better still:
They are hungry for more.
There is a vast and growing readership out there that is excited about discovering comic books, but as long as we continue to present comics to the world in the Biff Bang Pow! context of Marvel and DC, with shop windows full of pictures of Spider-Man and Superman, we will fail to reach it.
The biggest problem with comic books is that even now, even after all the amazing progress we’ve made as an industry over the last 20 years, the vast majority of people have no idea whatsoever about how much the comics medium has to offer.
As an industry, we still cling to the shortsighted and mistaken notion that presenting ourselves to the world as Marvel and DC, as superhero movies, is the key to reaching a wider audience, and it’s just not.
People know what Spider-Man is. People know what Superman is. They know Batman. They know the X-Men.
And you know what? They’ve already made their mind up about that stuff, and that’s why the success of those movies has yet to translate into an avalanche of readers into our industry.
We have trained the world to think of comics as “Marvel and DC superheroes.”
And the world has stayed away.
We need to fix that.
If we want to reach out to new readers, to different readers, we need to look at what we’re pitching them.
More than that, we need to look at who our customer base is – not just who is coming into the stores, but who ISN’T – and ask what we can do to make our marketplace more appealing to them.
ANYONE who isn’t currently buying comics should be our target audience.
THAT is who we want coming into comic book stores, and it is new creativity that is going to pave their way to your door.
We talk about being obsessed with expanding our audience, but if publishing lesser versions of people’s favorite cartoons, toys, and TV shows is the best we can do, then we are doomed to failure.
Simply reframing work from other media as comic books is the absolute worst representation of comics.
We can invite readers to innovate with us, but repurposing someone else’s ideas as comic books isn’t innovation – at best, it’s imitation, and we are all so much better than that.
New creativity that is native to comics is what makes this industry stronger. It shows what comics do, what comics can BE.
Look at THE WALKING DEAD.
I know, I know – it’s a hit television show.
But before that – long before that – it was a hit comic book.
THE WALKING DEAD came out of nowhere one October, and it increased in sales month over month, year after year, for a full five years before there was a television show.
THE WALKING DEAD is one of the most successful franchises in the history of comics – we have sold millions of units of comic books, trade paperbacks, toys, statues, apparel, and hardcovers – and it is completely homegrown.
It started right here, in the Direct Market, with new creativity – with your support of new creativity.
THE WALKING DEAD is a towering achievement, an incredible success.
And YOU helped make that happen.
YOU helped build that success.
Robert Kirkman, Image Comics, you – we did that TOGETHER.
And we’re working together to build the next WALKING DEAD as we speak.
If you look at THE WALKING DEAD’s sales pre-television show, back in the days when sales were just great, as opposed to phenomenal, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ SAGA is just kicking the shit of those numbers.
The trade paperbacks, the comics – SAGA is a massive success.
And I will say it once again: It all started with new creativity and your support of new creativity.
Both of those books – THE WALKING DEAD and SAGA – have brought a lot of new readers into your stores.
It is not a coincidence that both of those books are published by Image.
And we publish a lot more books that can help you expand this market.
New creativity is the future of this industry, not the latest SPIDER-MAN #1.
People come to comic book stores looking for original content, because it’s what we do best, not for comic book versions of things that are done better in other mediums.
If we seriously want to expand the marketplace and appeal to new readers, different readers, we can only do that by developing new things that only exist in our market.
While the rest of the entertainment industry lays back in the cut and churns out sequel after remake after reboot after sequel, we need to be on the frontline with the biggest, boldest, and best of the new ideas that will keep this industry healthy and strong for years to come.
Let the rest of the world come to US – let them make movies and TV shows and toys and cartoons based on what WE do.
Their dearth of ideas and their continued fascination with our unbridled creativity will only make us stronger.
THE WALKING DEAD is proof of this.
Like I said, THE WALKING DEAD comic book was selling great before it was a television show.
Now it sells even better.
And that’s because the show made people aware of the comic – and those people came to your stores to get that comic.
Because they want the real thing.
TRANSFORMERS comics will never be the real thing.
GI JOE comics will never be the real thing.
STAR WARS comics will never be the real thing.
Those comics are for fans that love the real thing so much, they want more – but there’s the important thing to understand:
They don’t want more comics – they just want more of the thing they love.
Those comics are accessories to an existing interest, an add-on, an upsell, easy surplus for the parent products – icing on the cake.
Comics are so much more than that, and this industry has existed as long as it has because of the ingenuity of men and women all over the world who yearn to share the fruits of their imaginations, not simply find new ways to prolong the life of existing IPs.
So much of the comics experience is about sharing.
We share our thoughts and feelings about comics with each other; we share the comics we love with our friends; writers and artists share the worlds they’ve created with their readers.
Something that sets the Direct Market apart from the rest of the retail world is the amazing communal experience you can only find in comic book stores.
That communal spirit has been part of the Direct Market’s success since its very inception, and now is the time to foster that spirit so that it continues to grow.
Do more signings. Plan more sales. Throw parties. Invite writers and artists to speak at your store, or in your community, as an adjunct to regular signings.
A lot of stores are hosting book clubs – we need more of that, focused on as many subjects as your customers can think of.
Host workshops and help foster new creativity yourselves, so that you’re directly involved in cultivating the next generation of comic book creators.
Be more inclusive – one of the best sales tools at your disposal is your ability to build a community around your store. Make your store a destination for everyone – men, women, and children of every background.
I’ve been to a lot of your stores, and some of you are doing amazing work already, but there is always more that can be done.
Ask yourself what you could do better, and what you could do to reach that one person you’re not bringing into the store.
If there are people in your community who aren’t comfortable going into comic book stores, ask them why. Ask what you could be doing that you’re not.
Comic book stores are one of our industry’s most valuable resources, and we should all be doing everything we can to make sure that continues to be the case for years into the future.
We don’t want people buying their comics in Targets or Wal-Marts, or as a giveaway with a toy. We want people to come right here to the very heart of our business.
We want them to come to you.
It’s hard to remember those timid days when digital comics were a threat to civilization as we know it and not a solid revenue stream, but one of the artifacts of that era, Diamond Digital, has been laid to rest. This was a program whereby retailers, instead of licking ‘em could join ‘em by setting up their own digital storefronts via Diamond. It never really worked out, for various reasons including a long, protracted roll-out, and at one point Brian Hibbs reported he had made a grand total, net, of $22.89 in a year from the program.
Brigid Alverson has a thorough post mortem that can’t really be improved upon, so I’ll just send you there:
There are a lot of reasons why Diamond Digital didn’t work, but I think chief among them is the initial concept was flawed. The idea wasn’t to provide readers with a simple, easy-to-use digital comics service; it was to protect brick-and-mortar retailers by providing them with a digital comics service that wouldn’t compete with them. That drive to avoid competition resulted in a clunky and almost-unusable platform. Meanwhile, comiXology took a different tack and expanded the comics market, bringing in new readers — who then found their way to comics shops and bought print comics.
So yeah, the protectionist era has been laid to rest. I think the idea itself was well intentioned, but in practice it never took hold.
It’s also a moment to reflect on the digital storefronts that have come and gone—graphic.ly and Panelfly—or never even come—remember Longbox? Iverse and Dark Horse are still in there kicking, and Sequential is a more recent and selective app. (Of course there are also iBooks and Kindle.) While you must give Comixology major props for staying the course that they believed in all along, now that this channel is so well established, I wouldn’t be surprised to see other specialized vendors set up. But to be successful you need to believe in what you’re selling, not fear it.
Diamond reports that for the last two years, their number of accounts has gone up by 1% each year—a tiny amount, to be sure, but at least it isn’t falling. Here’s some recent stories about NEW stores opening up, and one old one reopening—proof that indie bookstores and comics are not domed quite yet.
¶ Rocket Comics: In Menifee, CA, Life-long residents to open comic shop pictured above.
Cousins Jesse Heinrichs, 22, and Zach Heinrichs, 25, plan to open the first comic book shop in Menifee’s known history.
The grand opening for their shop, Rocket Comics, is planned for 10 a.m. April 6 at 27140 Shadel Road and includes food, drinks, a raffle and a free package of buttons for the first 20 customers.
The shop, which specializes in comic books but also sells games, toys and other collectibles, is the realization of a dream for the two cousins — who proudly embrace the label “comic nerds.”
The two hope the store will be an after school destination for kids, which seems to be a growing trend for shops located near schools.
¶ Vintage Villains: In Danville, IL another pair has opened a shop:
Partners Chris Perrault, a laid-off FreightCar employee, and Troy Walton have opened the shop, which opened today in the former Bruce Huff Photography business next to Hoarder’s Paradise, at 103 N. Vermilion St. [snip]
Perrault said the downtown pedestrian traffic also played a part in their decision to locate downtown.
During the last few months, they have been painting, removing a wall and renovating the space to fit their needs.
The shop has sections of T-shirts, reproduction movie posters, buttons, records and music CDs, horror/sci-fi/anime, VHS movies and DVDs, video games and video game systems — such as Atari and Nintendo, non-sports cards, action figures from movies and television shows and toys from the 1980s and 1990s.
The store sounds fine but we’re curious about the spot called Hoarder’s Paradise!
¶ Heroes For Sale: Liverpool, UK Yet another pair of determined fans opening a shop:
It hosts a vast collection of items such as classic comic books, action figures from Star Wars, Iron Man, Transformers, Ghostbusters and other memorabilia that is a journey of nostalgia through the sub-culture of TV, cinema and cartoon series heroes across the second half of the 20th Century.
The shop is run by Pierce King and David Ross, who are themselves collectors and enthusiasts and have collected most of the shop’s content over the past two decades.
¶ Hypno-Tronic Comics, St. George, Staten Island, NY this one is run by a couple
From tiny robots, laser beams, space invaders and bad monster costumes, a new comic shop in St. George is stocking up on vintage science-fiction and horror movie merchandise. Aside from the usual stock of superhero comics, Hypno-Tronic Comics will sell everything from Elvira dolls to Star Trek laser-disks.
“We’re different,” said co-owner Joy Ghigliotti. “We try to cater to sci-fi, horror movies, television, pop culture stuff, as well as the comics.” The store already has a large collection of memorabilia culled from garage sales, conventions and the personal collections of owners Ghigliotti and Edmund Varuolo.
¶ Finally, in Lynchburg, VA, Collector’s Lair has reopened in a new space following a fire:
The blaze, which burned for days, remains under investigation, Lynchburg Fire Marshal Thomas Mack said. About a month after the fire, Lair reopened his shop less than a mile away, next door to Chestnut Hill Hardware and near Fort Avenue’s intersection with Wards Road. He has operated a hobby shop for more than 20 years and knew he had to reopen. “That was almost immediate,” Lair said. “We were successful at what we were doing.” For 10 years, Lair sold collectibles from his former location on Fort Avenue, previously the Continental Hobby Shop. Lair opened his store in the 1980s after his childhood hangout, The Treasure Chest, closed. The faded sign from Lair’s first store is displayed in the front window of his new location.
Glad to hear this store was able to reopen following what sounds like a pretty bad fire.
How much these openings have been helped by Diamond’s incentives to help new stores open is unknown, but it’s definitely a welcome trend.
Has a comics shop opened near you? Tell the Beat!
By: Heidi MacDonald
Blog: PW -The Beat
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, Dark Horse
, Indie Comics
, Marketing Graphic Novels
, Retailing & Marketing
, Top News
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, Chip Mosher
, Dirk Wood
, Hunter Gorinson
, indie publishing
, Jeremy Atkins
, Mel Caylo
, social media
, WonderCon 2013
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ComiXology’s Chip Mosher of Marketing and PR moderated a panel with Jeremy Atkins of Dark Horse, Dirk Wood of IDW, Mel Caylo of Archaia, and addition Hunter Gorinson of Valiant Comics with the goal of sharing tips and pro experience with indie creators and future marketers on Friday, March 29th at WonderCon. The result was quite an entertaining panel featuring their professional blunders and secret discoveries about he ins and outs of comics promotion.
Mosher started out by asking for the embarrassing stories each had accrued in their work experience, “professional blunders” that contained teachable moments. Atkins admitted to the cringeworthy common mishap of hitting “reply all” on an email and copying a person specifically to be excluded from a conversation, with plenty of sympathetic groans from the audience. Mosher’s own tale of woe was equally relatable, reading an e-mail from Emerald City Con and then forgetting to reply afterward, thereby losing booth space for BOOM that year. Wood was more circumspect about his failures, noting that “25% of marketing is what I would call blunders” that can lead either to success or to a “thud”, and that he finds it impossible to tell which will happen in some circumstances. Persistence, he advised, is the key to forge ahead despite an unpredictable market.
Caylo dredged up his own worst moments with a story of “drunk tweeting” from the wrong account, declaring his love for someone, a tweet that remained up on a company account overnight whereas Gorinson stuck to the ever-present bugaboo of typos in press releases regardless of how many times the releases are checked before sending them out. Wood’s observation that some blunders can have positive results prompted the panel to consider whether they had similar lucky moments. Wood, particularly, “stumbled into successes” by having random, unlikely ideas for promotion like sending Godzilla costumed promo agents to “smash” stores, something that met with great success. The panel quickly turned interactive, fielding questions from the floor, and the first question, probably also the first on everyone’s mind, was how to run PR and marketing strategies on a shoe-string budget.
Mosher wittily commented, “This guy thinks that we have budgets” to his fellow panellists before Caylo took up the question with what became perhaps the strongest message of the panel event: “It’s all about relationships”. He suggested that those seeking press for comics go to shows, have e-mail conversations that are “not always pitching”, so that it’s easier when you do want to ask a favor to bring it up. He also added that “offer giveaways” on sites that increase “cross-promotion” are a very smart move. Atkins, who was particularly earnest and animated throughout the panel suggested that Twitter is a major player in promotion for building and continuing to cultivate professional relationships, including the retail industry in your list of contacts. Wood spoke to the indie creator’s situation trying to get books distributed. “Nothing speaks louder than a consignment situation”, he said, and pointed out that Top Shelf started through delivering consignment issues to comic shops, “giving books” to shops and allowing them to sell them rather than seeking solicitation. This involves “relentless beating of the pavement” since there is “no replacing grassroots”.
Atkins used this idea to springboard into a gambling metaphor: “In gambling and in life, you only win when you can afford to lose”. You shouldn’t expect return immediately, he warned, but trying different approaches and continuing to do so as long as possible is key. Mosher had strong feelings on the subject, reflecting on the example of a student protester who brough the New York Stock Exchange to a standstill by busking for dollar bills all day, then throwing a hundred bills onto the exchange floor. It was the perfect example, for Mosher, of “getting attention at low cost” and using the least resources to garner the “biggest impact”.
Gorinson focused on knowing your material and audience to get attention. Knowing the pitch well, and the many angles from which it might be interpreted, breaking out of narrow genre definitions, for instance, may win the day. He recommended top comics news sites as vehicles for spreading the word, as well as working “with anyone and everyone”, including small blog sites. Mosher’s experience at BOOM confirmed this premise. Starting out publishing only 4 to 7 books a month, he scoured blogs, put people in press lists, and sent them PDF review copies in an era before most comics companies were using PDFs in this way, and thereby grew a press list of 400 contacts.
Wood added that looking at comparable publishers and types of titles to the comic you are trying to circulate is a good starting point, looking to see how and where they are doing their marketing and focus your attack in that way. A common pitfall the panellists all agreed on is when creators send a pitch to a company for a comic series that’s a 12 issue proposal or longer. Companies aren’t willing to take the risk, they advised, and a 3-4 issue format is much more appealing at the outset of a project.
A follow up question from the audience regarded strategies to capitalize on the rash of superhero movies and growing movie fans who might never have read a comic. Several panellists felt that there’s no one single approach to bring film fans into comics, but a more surefire method is to “start them young”, reaching young readers with comics visual literacy. Mosher agreed, stating that there are more kids comics today than in the past decade, and comics continue to have unique qualities of storytelling that continue to appeal as a child grows up reading them. Gorinson added that Free Comic Book Day is an excellent opportunity to “get into as many shops as possible” and reach new, young readers. Mosher and Caylo both returned to the subject of cross promotion between films, tv, and comics, like the inclusion of ashcan comics in dvd box sets to show fans what comics alternatives are available for their favorite products.
A direct marketing question from the floor focused on the similarities or differences between selling comics and other products, like household items. Atkins felt there was very little difference at all, except that it’s more possible in comics to “know who that person is” you are targeting since “They are me, or some version of me”, as a comics fan. He continued with some other salient advice, such as “You have to believe in what you’re selling” and believe that you are “one of the best advocates for it”. Gorinson felt that marketing comics is different from marketing other consumer products because he often feels an “obligation” to live up to the quality of the work he’s promoting in his own efforts.
Gorinson and Atkins also suggested doing some research into major news sites to find out who on staff might be a comics fan, “finding” that contact, or locating dedicated geek blogging attached to news sites. Atkins and Mosher commented that using social media makes reaching out to news writers more and more direct. Mosher admitted that not everyone may have the desire or “skill set” to promote their comics properly despite attempts, and in that case, he advised, you should find a friend who thrives on that kind of work and collaborate on promotion.
The final big topic addressed by the panel, and one which inspired some lively reactions from the speakers, was the use of transmedia and multiple media formats to draw attention to comics. Caylo said that it’s all about “synergy” between comics, films, and related video games, based on his work at Archaia. Atkins clarified, however, that adding transmedia content to promote comics, such as an app or video game should still be “meaningful to the overall story.
I posed a last question to the panel before it came to a close, wondering what the biggest pros and cons are to using social media as a promotional tool. Gorinson replied that you have to be “clever” in different ways to use social media properly for this purpose, while Mosher commented simply, but with some emotion, “Trolls!” as his biggest con. Caylo was the most personally engaged by the question and gave the following run down: social media’s benefits are “accessibility” and the quickness and “ease” of getting the word out about your product, especially when doing it for free. The “dangers”, however, are that “You are open to trolls and people who want to bait you”. “Ignore them”, he recommended, since once they “engage” you, they’ve “got you”. Block them if necessary, and learn to take “the bad with the good” when it comes to social media.
The panel was surprisingly lively, with all the panellists more than willing to share from their personal struggles to find the golden balance when it comes to marketing with limited budgets, and each expressed an obvious commitment to the survival and growth of worthy comics through good strategies and trying innovative methods to see what works for each book and each particular situation. Building personal relationships, watching out for the wrong kind of blunders, and learning from them when they occur, were paramount for these indie publishing marketers.
Photo Credits: All photos in this article were taken by semi-professional photographer and pop culture scholar Michele Brittany. She’s an avid photographer of pop culture events. You can learn more about her photography and pop culture scholarship here.
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.
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Blog: PW -The Beat
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Mike Molcher is the PR Co-ordinator for Rebellion, meaning he is the man directly responsible for promoting their comics, 2000AD and Judge Dredd Megazine. If you’ve noticed over the last few months that more people are talking about 2000AD, be it the recent ‘Trifecta’ storyline, or the ‘gay Judge Dredd’ teaser which got picked up everywhere – that’s Mike Molcher’s work. He’s also an interviewer and writer himself, who has interviewed many of the key figures who have worked at 2000AD over the years, including Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, Dave Gibbons and Carlos Ezquerra.
But how do you go about promoting a company like 2000AD, which releases a new anthology EVERY WEEK? I spoke to Mike about his work with the company, to see how exactly he goes about promoting the series. And what is comic book marketing, anyway? How does it work? Is this interview secretly all part of his marketing plan?
By reading this, have we become trapped in Mike Molcher’s sinister plans for 2000AD to take over the world? Oh dear…
Steve: I’ll start with a self-sabotaging question: since 2005 you’ve been involved with interviewing some of the most influential 2000 AD creators – from Alan Moore to Carlos Ezquerra. What makes for a good interview?
Mike: Oof, tough start! I can’t say mine are particular exemplars of good practice so I can only speak about the interviews I enjoy reading – they tend to be the ones that actually stray away from what’s on the comic book page to what’s going on in the mind of the creator, what motivates them, what inspires them, what grinds their gears. By uncovering these things the interviewer can begin to form a picture of the roots of that person’s creativity. Talent and ability never exist in isolation, they have always come from somewhere (usually thanks to a lot of hard work) and it’s the people of comics that I find most fascinating. I like to think my interviews try and achieve that (he said, nervously).
Steve: Before you took on your current role, you worked as a features writer for 2000 AD. How did you first come to get involved with the company in this respect?
Mike: I think it was Matt Badham who first mentioned to me that 2000 AD was looking for creator interviews and features. At the time I was a local newspaper reporter in the north of England but had started up my own self-published magazine, The End is Nigh, which took a Fortean Times-style look at end-of-the-world theories. I’d interviewed Alan Moore about the apocalyptic aspects of his work and his ideas on the approaching human singularity, so I did a retrospective on him for the Judge Dredd Megazine. That opened the door to interviews and I’ve been doing them ever since. Fortunately it meant that when I applied for the job they already knew me and knew that I was a big 2000 AD fan.
Steve: Obviously, your goal as a features writer is to promote and flesh out the company you’re writing for at the time. Do you think there’s a natural step between journalism and PR? How do you alternate between the two?
Mike: I don’t know what it’s like in the States, but you’ll find many of the big names in PR in Britain started out as journalists in some respect. Personally, I’d say that firsthand experience of what goes on inside the head of a journalist and what makes a good story is invaluable when you’re trying to reach out to reporters and reviewers. I continue to write creator interviews in my spare time for the Judge Dredd Megazine and Comic Heroes, so personally I think one compliments the other, because it keeps me abreast of what’s going on in the industry and how we can use that to our advantage at work.
Steve: Only a short while ago you moved to become Rebellion’s PR Co-ordinator. What sort of work does this involve on a day-to-day basis?
Mike: Answering a LOT of emails, mostly. 2000 AD represents just part of my work so I spend a lot of time writing press releases for new titles and announcements, keeping the social media side of things flowing, running blog tours for our three novel imprints, keeping track of the development of the various games Rebellion are working on, plus trying to work out new opportunities to promote our products. Fortunately we’ve recently taken on a marketing coordinator, Robbie Cooke, whose focus is more on the games side of things so he’s been a massive help with that.
Steve: Rebellion don’t just publish 2000 AD/Judge Dredd, but also handle novels and computer games. How do you structure your time between the three?
Mike: With a rather heavily annotated diary, a lot of scheduling, and an increasingly wrinkled brow. Working across three different industries can be pretty mad at times and making sure I give equal time to every new title and product can be damn hard work. Ultimately I have to judge whether something needs a slight PR nudge to sell or a heavy marketing shove out the door…
Steve: The Dredd movie came out last year, giving you a unique opportunity for promotion on a wider field. How did the movie affect the way you promoted the comics?
Mike: I very quickly learned that ANY mention of movies gets people really excited – our most shared image on Facebook was one I did publicizing the fact that DREDD was number one in the DVD and Blu-Ray charts over here and even the slightest mention of the movie would get a huge response. We’re constantly asked whether there are movies coming for our other characters, so it seems the magic of film hasn’t exactly diminished in the digital age!
We obviously went heavy on the promotion of Judge Dredd to tie in to the movie and that’s really paid off – the collected ‘Case Files’ have been flying off the shelves on both sides of the Atlantic – but I have tried to make sure that when someone discovers 2000 AD for the first time they quickly see that it’s not all about Dredd, as loveable as he is. We have a huge and constantly growing back catalogue of some of the greatest characters in comics, from Halo Jones to Nemesis the Warlock and more recent things like Shakara, Low Life and Brass Sun.
Steve: Were there any promotional campaigns you were surprised to see get less attention than others? Do you find, when promoting a comic to a film audience, there was a difference in reaction than when you promote more directly to comic fans?
Mike: Nikolai Dante ended last year after 14 years. And when I say ended, writer Robbie Morrison and artist Simon Fraser brought the Russian rogue’s story to a close. In effect, we killed off one of our most popular characters. And he ain’t coming back. For a comic book to do something as bold as that, I thought, deserved more attention – alas, no-one really picked up on the announcement. It may be that he never had the right profile outside of 2000 AD, but by the time I came on board it was a bit late to change the situation.
I don’t think there’s a big difference in the way you talk to the two audiences other than reminding yourself that the film audience won’t be as conversant in the language and culture of comics as someone who’s been reading them for years. The biggest question we got was “I loved the movie, where do I start reading?”. We were very fortunate that someone can see DREDD then walk into their local comic book and walk out with a comic featuring the same character they saw on screen; Karl Urban and Alex Garland nailed the character of Judge Dredd so perfectly that it was like he’d leapt off the page. So marketing to fans of the film was a case of giving them a good starting point (The Complete Case Files #4, if you’re interested, then #5 and then pick up a copy of ‘Origins’ and ‘America’) and then letting them discover it for themselves.
Steve: You’ve spearheaded several successful campaigns for 2000 AD over the last year – the ‘gay Judge Dredd’ promo picked up a lot of attention, in particular. How do you decide which comics might be suitable for a push, and which stories are going to pick up the most attention?
Mike: I talk to 2000 AD’s editor Matt Smith about what we have coming up and he’s very good at highlighting things that are noteworthy. For example, we recently had BPRD’s James Harren do his first Judge Dredd story and we’ve got a couple of big artist announcements coming in the next few months which are quite exciting. I always do a baseline social media push for each edition of 2000 AD – teasing new stories or returning series, promoting striking covers – but quite often there’s something specific to push like new or returning talent.
The ‘gay Dredd’ campaign was a particular highlight. Not every fan was pleased with my tactics there, but the wall by my desk covered in national and international media clippings and the 30% hike in sales for that particular issue (with high retention and new subscriber rates) makes me feel somewhat justified. It was the same for the return of the Dark Judges as part of the Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos storyline – we ran a great teaser campaign with CBR and the sales graphs all blipped upwards and stayed there.
Alongside the digital explosion our print edition is benefiting from the higher profile – over the past six months, the 2000 AD iPad app has not only grown our number of subscribers overall but has also bolstered the number of print subscribers. We’ve got clear data showing that promotion has played a major part in that, so I’ve been very pleased with our work over the past year.
Steve: Similarly, the Trifecta story from Al Ewing, Si Spurrier and Rob Williams got a lot of critical acclaim. Can you plan for that sort of buzz ahead of a story being released? Ahead of the issue being released, do you try to arrange for more people to get hold of review copies? How do you manage a story which you think is going to be critically acclaimed, by fans and by reviewers?
Mike: We decided very early on with Trifecta that we wouldn’t spoil the surprise, but that once it was out in the open it was all hands to the pumps – Al, Si, and Rob played along brilliantly and once it was out there we really pushed hard on the reaction from readers and from those reviewers who picked up on what was happening. The issues of Trifecta have been some of our biggest digital sellers as people hear the hype then go back and pick up the relevant issues.
Building word of mouth isn’t much use when it’s for a single weekly issue because by the time people have heard about it it’s already time for the next issue, but when you have an exciting ongoing storyline then you can really help spread the word. We do weekly press previews to bloggers and journalists; getting those all-important reviews means getting copies in the right people’s hands, something that I think we’re much better at doing now than we ever have been.
Steve: Are there any techniques which always help drive attention to a comic? Valiant’s successful relaunch, for example, seemed to have a lot to do with the way they publicised themselves ahead of the first comic release.
Mike: On a very basic level you can’t go wrong with new artwork, the return of popular characters, and intriguing teasers. Nothing’s better for getting social media buzz going than a juicy piece of art or a surprise announcement that your favourite character is coming back. The biggest attention-grabbers are when you change the game a little bit or find a niche no-one knew was there.
Steve: What do you think about the current state of American comics, in terms of marketing? Marvel and DC seem to have become a lot more ‘stunt’ orientated over the last few months. Every other day sees about fifty teaser images get released.
Mike: In an insanely competitive marketplace, it’s small wonder that the big two have to shout louder and louder about their books. I like what DC is doing with its ‘DC family’ blog and the campaigns on titles such as Journey into Mystery, Young Avengers and Spider-Man that Marvel has been running have been spot on (and I was blown away by the skill of their digital announcements at SXSW recently), while Image has completely reinvented itself over the last two years into something a lot closer to the feel and ethos of 2000 AD than I think any of us realise!
I often get asked why we promote 2000 AD the way that we do and why we don’t just let “word of mouth” do our work for us. 2000 AD has been on a hell of a run for the past decade and the word of mouth was very positive, yet we weren’t significantly building our readership. Two years of strong marketing and new distribution and we’re adding readers. It’s not rocket science.
Steve: 2000AD must be an interesting magazine to work on, because it’s a weekly anthology series. How do you focus your PR for each issue? Do you focus on creators, or characters – or the magazine as a whole, single product?
Mike: All of the above! And yes, it’s a constantly fascinating, evolving comic to work on. We have a brilliant stable of artists and writers who’ve really knocked it out of the park over the last 18 months, plus a tiny editorial team who are just as enthusiastic and passionate about 2000 AD as any reader. It can be challenging at times because many non-readers have an idea of it that’s 20 years out of date; all those great strips and creators are fantastic and amazing, but the past ten years of 2000 AD have been universally praised amongst fans as a second golden age and that’s pretty bloody exciting.
Steve: We’ve seen 2000AD building up a reputation overseas (which in this case means America) over the last year or so. How do you approach publicising the magazine abroad? Again, do you find you have to tailor the material you offer overseas readers?
Mike: It’s been a particular aim of mine to make us as much of a part of the comics mainstream in America as any other publisher and I believe we’re starting to get some traction there. I’d like to offer more previews of material to news sites, though it can be a struggle to make people understand that carrying 2000 AD news can bring in readers. We have a great relationship with sites like CBR and Comics Alliance, and some real advocates of our comics in people like Doug Wolk, Karl Keily, and Tucker Stone. We bring out one or two collections specifically for North America every month so it’s a case of publicising them as normal while bearing in mind that American and Canadian audiences may not be as au fait with the language and culture of British comics.
Steve: Do you think digital has evened the playing field a little, now everybody has access to comics from home?
Mike: Completely. For reasons unfortunately beyond our control many comic book readers in North America can’t get hold of 2000 AD as easily as we would like, so being able to beam each ‘Prog’ directly into their hands is a massive bonus. We have a reputation as a British comics powerhouse, so we just have to make sure people are intrigued enough to give 2000 AD a go.
Steve: What would you say is the key to working PR in the comics industry, in the current climate?
Mike: Good material to work with, constant attention to social media and a thick skin (I admit mine could be somewhat thicker).
Steve: What would you like to see more of from comic companies in 2013, in terms of PR, co-ordination, and marketing?
Mike: A bit more innovation, but then that’s easy for me to say and very hard to suggest ways in which you could do it. While marketing is important, it should never drive creative choices but I would like to see marketing that pointedly pushes out into other demographics and stresses aspects of comics beyond the obvious – the industry has a lot of work to do to convince people it’s not all spandex and T&A for teenage and not-so-teenage boys. But it must always be about working with the creative teams, who are the ones delivering the material in the first place.
Many thanks to Mike for his time. Big interview! Repay him by following him on Twitter. If you’d rather see a Tharg-approved twitter feed, however, then you can follow 2000AD too. And if that still isn’t enough Tharg endorsement, head over to 2000AD online.
More free comics are being given away than ever before! Diamond has announced that 4.6 million free comics were ordered for this year’s Free Comic Book Day, to be held Saturday, May 4th. That’s up from 3,500,000 in 2012 and 2,700,000 in 2011.
A record 2000 retailers are participating this year. The timing the day after Iron Man 3′s opening is seen as propitious and the offerings include a range of popular fare from the Walking Dead to the Simpsons.
If you’re looking for where to bag your swag, The FCBD site includes a new comics shop locator to find participating retailers.
It’s worth remembers that FCBD, which practically qualifies as a holiday, was largely spearheaded by retailer Joe Field over a decade ago, when comics were at a low ebb. Although some wonder if it is still necessary, the press storm, social media buzz and personal excitement would sem to indicate that it’s still a valuable marketing tool.
Above: Beast of the Sea by Bob Motown
The somewhat uneven performance of Marvel’s graphic novel program is a frequent topic of analysis when we talk about graphic novel programs here. Both the Diamond and BookScan numbers for 2012 showed Marvel—the #1 publisher overall in the Direct Sales market—surprisingly far back in the pack where books are concerned.
Retailer Jeffrey O. Gustafson has a withering overview of what he sees as Marvel’s missteps in packaging and keeping books in print. I’ll just excerpt a tiny bit:
But most glaring, with a new Guardians of the Galaxy series premiering this week and a major movie in the works (to much positive excitement amongst Marvel fandom), the Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning books of recent years on which both are based are completely out of print. For some reason there have been new printings of the irrelevant 1970s and 1980s Guardians material. This is simply irrational and schizophrenic.
Ouchie. There have long been similar complaints about the Iron Man Extremis collection by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov which featured many elements used in the rather popular films. The book comes and goes out of print—according to Amazon the nice hardcover is unavailable now
—and that’s with an Iron Man movie coming out in a few months. You can get the Kindle edition though!
While Marvel rarely comments on these matters, when retailer Brian Hibbs expressed similar discontent in his 2012 BookScan analysis, Marvel’s associate publisher Ruwan Jayatilleke showed up in the comments to defend Marvel’s actions. Hibbs wrote:
…I think it is clear at this point that Marvel, at least in the Bookstore market, isn’t really that significant of a player able to drive very many hits. Yes, they’re largely dominant in the Direct Market channels, and they rule periodical comics, but their backlist strategy does not seem to be paying off with any kind of solid results — in either market.
This, to me, is nutso-crazy because Marvel is clearly a stronger brand than DC, better known, more established, and, for many “civilians,” practically synonymous with “comics” itself. Further, Marvel does rule the periodicals, and strong periodical sales really should yield strong backlist sales — it is audience tested material!
I think it is very difficult to look at Marvel’s backlist business as anything other than an abject, deeply embarrassing failure, especially when you consider that there was a film that grossed a billion-and-a-half dollars, and was not only also a critical hit, but a near perfect encapsulation of what’s awesome about comic books serving as the greatest advertisement for their comics that one could possibly imagine, and Marvel’s best-selling comic in BookScan is… “Kick Ass 2.”
And Jayatilleke responded in a series of posts:
AvX, MARVEL NOW, etc. are proof otherwise that our books sell at a “fast-paced.”
Title chronology exists for the adventurous fan. I don’t think any new reader or casual reader is starting from from materials 4-5-or 6 decades ago. They tend to read characters and or creators they like or via recc’s or word of mouth.
We are capitalizing fine off of Marvel Studios successes and other third party films. Remember digital is now a part of our planning.
Marvel has a strong backlist. Is it as robust as other publishers? Yes and no. But we are working on it.
Actually word of mouth has driven our periodical and frontlist collection sales, so I am not sure what you’re basing your opinion off of….
I’ll be fairly honest our business model works. We are a margin driven business that uses tight controls on all COGS/COS like inventory to maximize OI. We had a correction at the end of 2011 and we’ve been off to the races again since.
A lot of your “solutions” are qualitatively based and aren’t derived from any sort of historical data or business acumen. While we enjoy seeing people give us suggestions of how to improve￼ our business, you seem more than content to grind an axe for some unknown reason and insult Marvel in the process. We outperformed our quantitative and qualitative goals for 2012 and the objectives set by the Walt Disney Company and will continue to strive to do so again, again, again, etc. So while the naysayers keep naysaying, we keep succeeding. However I will definitely look at backlist chronology since that is part of whether retailers and consumers really need that level of curation these days.
Just for you to note, we evaluate our business and the health of it by a number of different metrics. Overall retail revenue is one of them, but not the main determinant.
I would say margin (operating margin) would be a more relevant number which you are not privy to. Despite the doom ‘n gloom your article might kick up as it relates to Marvel trade retail business…I’d say from our perspective that we are really happy with our performance. Our ranking versus other publishing might be important to some folks, but it’s not how I guide our strategy in a channel or retail space–or evaluate it for that matter. While being cognizant of our competitors and other performers is great contextual knowledge to have, it does not bend what we set out to do. Being that I have worked for Scholastic (before Marvel) and Marvel and for other reason are familiar with the publishing p&ls of some of the other publishers you discuss, I’ll be quite frank…each publisher is operating at much different margins. And with that perspective, I am really happy with how Marvel is performing versus how I estimate other fellow publishers are doing, despite rankings.
There’s a lot of valuable data in your piece and as you state yourself it’s important for people to draw their own conclusions and do more research…I am quite confident in what Marvel achieved in 2012 versus other publishers, but at the end of the day…we are judged on our own performance not other players.
Asked if this was indeed the real Ruwan, he wrote:
Indeed it is I–or me–Ruwan at Marvel. I oversee the sales, marketing, and communications teams re: Publishing amongst many tasks and am responsible–along with my team and other stakeholders for the publishing p&l. Unaware on CBR and professional status titles and accounts…Jonah hates me so I don’t see that happening. Kidding! Love you, mean it Jonah! ;)
Hmm “strategy misguided”–bit of a reach as it comes to the business of creating publishing product. Selling yes–no one question your expertise as it relates to your store/s and sales patterns. But that is only one link of a very long chain of revenue chain–both upstream and downstream. Even the roughest “back of the envelope math” doesn’t support what you’re stating IMO. Sorry. Totally value your opinion, ideas, and attempts to educate and inform. Not trying to dismiss them outright. I can say from just looking at the proprietary info and other industry insider knowledge, you’re backing out an answer based on loose assumptions to support your hypothesis. There’s not even qualitative data to support what your stating.
No it’s not coming from an “objective place” bc it’s coming from YOU (not actuals as it related to Marvel, its margins, actual sales, and all channels/product formats). On top of it not being an accurate sampling amongst a channel of retailers you can extrapolate from, and you’re not being able to waterfall out revenue for a year of sales amongst different and divergent retail channels. While I respect your retailer perspective.
“Further, at a certain point, operating margin means far less than the absolute profit that can be netted out — I’d rather earn 200% ROI on 100k copies than 300% ROI on 50k copies. That’s just math.” Who said that profit or the weighted value of the actual margin means far less to me than x, y, or z metrics that we have batted about. I get “math” and we’re (Marvel) doing a great job w/ the math to hit our goals which are aggressive. As I said before we use different metrics. I shorthanded operating margin as a main indicator and I should overstated there are more main indicators, but that is all I am willing to share online or otherwise. Until you are sitting in my seat or one of one of my colleague’s chairs at any of the other publishers (you can throw the same thing back at me in terms of retail–I know)…all you’re presenting is an opinion based on nonactuals and borderline back of the envelope math. Not trying to shut down this discussion, but this is going to get protracted for no reason. You’ll have proved nothing to me by us trading who’s right and who’s wrong over a forum. And frankly I am not interested in that conversation bc it gets neither what you’re trying to advocate further to me or my teams–or vice versa. I’ll be at a fair amount of the comic shows this year. You can me chat w/ me about this offline at one of them f2f.
Cheers and thanks for the dialogue,
So there you go, Marvel has its own goals and is meeting them.
Speaking of ComicsPRO, here’s a link I found in the coverage: a slideshow put together by Papercutz marketing director Jesse post on the power and potential of kids’ comics. The slideshow is embedded above but he does a walk-through on his blog and although Papercutz-centric material is there, it’s really big on stats and charts and studies. For instance:
Children’s publishing is astonishingly digital-proof. The commonly accepted average digital/print split for adult trade publishing is 50/50, and leaning more towards digital every day. In children’s trade publishing, it’s 10/90! I’ve seen major best-selling children’s books move 1% of their print sales in digital. A Papercutz book that achieves 3% of its print sales in digital is a significant bump.
This does back up studies that I’ve seen—but I’ve also had the proud parent of a 1-year-old girl show me a video (on his iPhone) of her using an iPad with complete facility. Although a super-race of digital-only Eloi kids is probably on its way, it won’t be here for a while—too many of today’s parents were raised on books, and until that preference cycles out completely, it won’t be gone.
But it does back up something I’ve been feeling over the last few months…there’s going to be a “third wave” of comics used for educational purposes. There’s a small, dedicated core of comics people who want this to happen, but although small in number, they are no smaller than the ones who drove other comics retailing and marketing revolutions. And this time, we have a lot of teachers and librarians on our side. It may not be an obvious step for comics, the art form, but if it comes through it could provide even more stability.
A lot is happening.
My annual write around on the yearly meeting of the retailing organization ComicsPRO was in PW yesterday, including new president Thomas Gaul’sfirst interview. As usual, reports from the show were all about positivity and productivity and good sales news.
[Gaul] also noted the cautiously expanding economy as a factor. “Customers were at a comfort level where they didn’t feel like they could spend any money, but that’s changing. Retailers are also getting more comfortable with the idea that digital isn’t trying to destroy them. The reports that I’ve seen are that print sales are up at a higher number than the overall total of digital sales last year. It’s got retailers feeling a lot more positive.” Areas of previous anxiety—too many variant covers and erratic shipping schedules—weren’t much discussed, he said.
The ComicsPRO meeting is not open to the press, but this one seems to have been productive and chipper—the best way to follow along is a Twitter search
. Newsarama has some tidbits. Matt Price
posted some news from the event, including Diamond’s Chris Powell’s keynote speech
which gave, I think, a nice summation of how comics retailing got us to the trending upwards place we’re at now:
All this success can be traced back to comic shops, who toughed out the rough times and sang the praises of this medium to everyone who would listen and some who didn’t want to. You sent your employees to help educate librarians and to reach out to PTA’s and school boards. You donated comics to school programs and taught kids how to draw their first comics. You sent comics to military posts around the world and dropped them off in doctor’s waiting rooms where they would find their way into the hands of young readers. You are the reason for all that we are now enjoying, and that’s why we have to make sure that quality stores like yours are here today, tomorrow, and for years to come
Retiring president and one of the driving forces behind ComicsPRO’s founding, Joe Field, delivered some closing statements
As a handful of you may have read in my statement in the meeting binders, I’ve been through the hopeful formings and sad dismantlings of several retailer trade organizations… And the saddest were the ones in which I was the last “leader” of each group tasked to turn out the lights. That happened with BACR, then happened with the Northern California chapter of CBRI, then again with the Direct Line Group. [snip]
While it sure doesn’t look like anything can take our market down, really the one thing that can is our own complacency. If we’re standing still, then we’re losing ground. And I know from hearing from so many of you this week that you will not let that happen –to our own operations or to an important entity like ComicsPRO.
The beautiful thing — and something I could never say about previous retailer orgs — is that this one is going to last.
I think evident in both these statements is just how far the remaining comics retailers have come—as I’ve theorized here many times, surviving in this business isn’t a gimme, and a lot of Android’s Dungeon-type stores just haven’t been able to go on in a world where reaching out to libraries and setting up webstores and tweeting is as necessary as setting up pull lists. Luckily, the vast majority of retailers I know are passionate and dedicated and know they have to give what it takes—and I’m happy to report that they have all been telling me that sales are up across the board. When best practices really do pay off, it’s good for everyone.
[Photo of the new ComicsPRO board from their Facebook page.
On Sunday, our pals at Green Brain Comics in Dearborn were shocked upon awakening to find a mini-van had crashed into their store. Although it looked dramatic, and took out an 8-foot long shelf of kids comics —and a bathroom, setting off a flood— the shop was in good enough shape to reopen today.
TweetThere’s been controvery over the past few days following DC’s decision to hire Orson Scott Card, a pioneer in contemporary homophobia, as one of the writers on a new digital-first Superman anthology series. And although the internet has been going back and forth on the subject for the past few days, the first active step [...]
Mouse Guard artist David Petersen has a very thorough post on a topic that we haven't seen explored too much, despite its ubiquity: how to exhibit at comics shows if you are a creator. The whole post is full of very solid advice, from where to get an affordable retractable banner to how to get going. Just some common sense real world advice. Two excerpts on vital matters:
TweetRetailing advocacy group ComicsPRO has announced their annual Industry Appreciation Award nominees which salute “those who have been simply the best at what they do, making the comic-book direct market more successful for all of us.” Awards are presented in two categories: to living industry figures and those who have passed away. And the nominees [...]
TweetEver since Diamond announced their Diamond Digital initiative, allowing comics shops to sell digital comics to customers, I’ve been wondering about the future of comics retailing, specifically, How well do comics shops market their stores online? I’ve been a bookseller since 1994, and I’ve seen how the Internet has affected traditional brick-and-mortar retailing. Books have [...]
When I first began writing this column, my intent was to help creators and comics publishers understand the methods to the madness of landing a book on the bestseller lists. After the November 8th Beat posting of the NYT list showing several GN titles on the list, it’s really not a question of whether a GN can make the list, but more like how a book gets there. For a quick refresher the first post dealt with the market opportunities. Posting number two talks about obstacles and distribution. The third one is about outliers like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and why ALL AGES is a very bad business decision.
Going back to The Beat posting on November 8th, folks will notice that an overwhelming majority of the titles that do make the lists for NYT or traditional publishing awards are creator-owned properties being published by one of the major traditional publishing houses or one of their smaller imprints. One of the many differences between traditional houses and comics pubs is the publicity and marketing efforts. These folks have a basic punch list of marketing elements and publicity in place to make sure that the word gets out about the ‘next big book’.
Promotion Starts Way Before Pub Date: More often than not, the marketing for the book begins officially about 6 months prior to the publication date of the book. Advance reader copies or uncorrected proofs are sent out to a wide range of reviewers with the various trade publications and major newspapers. A sell sheet is also created for the wholesale and distribution market. Publicity teams review the calendar for trade shows and consumer book festivals, bookstore events, etc., where they can get the author placed.
Advance Reader Copies are Critical: More and more now the trade publications are accepting PDF/electronic copies of graphic novels because there is a better understanding of the costs associated with producing full-color hard copy books. For the creator who may be sensitive to sending out unfinished art, there are ways to protect your work but the truth of the matter is that the major trade publications are also sensitive to this and don’t want to risk their relationships with you or your publisher. You can trust them to keep your work secure. These start going out as soon as you can make them available. Don’t worry that the artwork isn’t complete; this is why they are called Advance Reader Copies/Uncorrected Proofs.
The Role of Sell Sheets: Also known as Tip Sheets, these are single pages of information describing the book. It has your basic info: Title, Story Summary, Author Info, Target Demographic, Pricing, Marketing(selling points) and Advertising Elements. Keep the story summary to the basic elements. Below is a story summary of a fictional book title I created for this post.
Ex: When The Bad Cats Ruled Portland
Story Summary “This is a dystopian fantasy about a boy with a magical stick who discovers he’s the most powerful cat wrangler in Portland. Josh Chipman is an orphan and he’s got two loyal cats who help him defeat the evil dark lord while also coping with the drama of middle school romance and homework.”
Series: If your book is part of an ongoing series, don’t assume the reader of the tip sheet knows anything about the series. Add the series info to the end of the story summary and keep it simple.
“This is book three of a 5-book series and in this book Josh discovers that his mom may once been married to the principal aka: Dark Lord, of his school. How will Josh manage his emotions and deal with the evil dark lord’s nefarious intentions?”
Selling points are things like previous awards and/or support quotes blurbs from other known or well-known authors and/or trade publications and blog sites. Keep a blurb to a single sentence if possible and try to keep one as clean as possible. While a quote from one of your heroes may be a thrill to get, you will need to keep the language professional. Remember that the person reading the sell sheet is a professional and may get a bit turned off by a blurb that says “This story makes me want to f*%#ing shred all my own stuff and start over!” I’d suggest going back to your author friend and ask them if they don’t mind an edited version for the sell sheet. Now for the promotion of the book to the general public? I’d probably leave the quote as is with the use of punctuation marks. We will deal with the public aspect of the marketing in a future post.
The thing that the sell sheet ultimately creates is the sales pitch for your book. IF you do it right, then everyone in your food chain, from the publisher to the buyer (at retail and institutional) to the bookseller and librarian will be able to repeat verbatim your story summary. It’s the basic ‘elevator pitch’ you need to create in order to clearly define what your book is about and what will compel someone to sell it.
Variant Covers are not a Selling Point in the Regular Book Trade: We all know that book covers play a major role in how a book is promoted on the shelves of bookstores (or online) and as far as variants go, the professional buyers in the retail, library and education markets really couldn’t care less about them. The reality is a variant can also do more harm than good because, if the artwork inside the book is not consistent with the exterior, it’s basically false advertising-especially if the cover is better than the interiors. (We will also deal with cover design in another posting) The thing about variant covers is that, in my humble opinion, they have become abused and overused. Ideally, variant covers are something created as a special prize for the loyal retailers to have and keep. They should be used as a reward for the love and support-that’s it.
Publicity and Marketing are Two Different Skill Sets: And they are critical to the success of your book. The stuff about sell sheets, promotions and creating of advance reader copies, along with advertising, are elements of marketing. Publicity is the art of getting the word out about your book. One of the best first examples I can recall for a graphic novel was in a Publishers Weekly interview with David Petersen (MOUSE GUARD) who said that things really started happening for the book after he hired a publicist. As it so happens, I know the folks whom he contacted at Media Masters and the reason why I include their name here is because they have a keen understanding of the book trade and they also understand graphic novels. A strong publicist will get your book placed into the right hands versus dumping copies everywhere and anywhere possible. They will tell you which are the right trade shows or book festivals to speak or sign at. They will connect you with the booksellers who have the most influential voices in the industry.
Publicity is not something you simply ask a boyfriend or girlfriend to ‘manage’. Would you let them perform surgery on you or repair your car? Unless they are actually a professional publicist, don’t dump this responsibility on someone who is not a pro.
You Get Back What You Put In: If you read Jim Zub’s recent post it’s a really good inside look at the effort required for selling a book. Raina Telgemeier (SMILE), Jimmy Gownley (AMELIA RULES), Jenni Holm (Babymouse) and Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) have all put in endless hours and miles to promote their books. They shake every hand; they sign every book as if each person was a new friend. Each of these folks have also taken the initiative to get out and promote, not waiting for the publisher to do it for them and it pays off. The publisher will and should help with some of the heavy lifting but the author who is a shameless self- promoter is the one who sells a lot more books.
As I will constantly point out, the effort to sell a book is equal to the effort involved in the creation. It’s a long haul but if you as a creator or a publisher have a basic road map then at least you have a decent head start. If your publisher says they can’t afford to do this stuff, or if you don’t think you need to do what a successful author does, then maybe you need to rethink your goals. Otherwise you have a very nice box of books that only your friend and your mom will know exists.
After his first novel was published in 1999, when Barry Nugent went on to self-publish his second novel Unseen Shadows: Fallen Heroes five years later, he couldn’t have seen what was coming. Ostensibly the first novel in a trilogy (he’s currently working on the second book, which is tentatively scheduled for next year), Fallen Heroes grew from a novel into a spinoff comic book, which then grew into a series of comic stories, which have now grown into a small empire of audio books, graphic novels, anthologies and more.
As you can probably guess, he’s very gifted at promotion, and always trying new ways to tell his stories. You’ll find Fallen Heroes on Amazon, reviewed all across the internet, and even stocked in stores like Waterstones. The amount of work he puts into getting his work seen is absolutely tremendous. I spoke to Barry at Thought Bubble about how so much came about from just one story, and how he’s seen his original story develop into such a vast array of different projects.
Steve: You’re launching your second Fallen Heroes anthology today, and have just announced plans on a series of graphic novels next year? Can you tell us anything about them?
Barry: We have three graphic novels in the works, all feature-length in size. The anthologies have been made up of four stories, each focused on a diferent character — but these graphic novels will all contain just one long-form story, with a different character the lead each time. The first one is about our character The Reverend – who is a mix between The Shadow and The Punished – and is called Blood Cries Out. It’ll be written by Cy Dethan, with Steve Penfold on art.
We have Swagger and Steel written by Corey Brotherson - although there’s no artist yet, we’re going through submissions and looking for somebody at the moment. And then the last story is also for next year, and is set 70 years after the novels end.
Steve: How did you move from novels to comics?
Barry: It’s been a journey. It started when Cy Dethan read the book, liked it, and as a result approached me and said he’d like to do a one-shot story as a comic. I said sure, and we talked about which character he wanted to do the story about – he picked The Reverend, and then went about writing the issue. But because Cy knows a lot of people in the industry, word spread around about the project and I started getting emails from other writers and artists asking if they could get involved. It’s been an amazing experience for me, having these guys take my characters and work with them in ways I couldn’t even have imagined.
It’s been a great journey, collecting everything together. Last year we released the first anthology and launched it at Thought Bubble, and after that again I started to get emails from other writers and artists, asking if I was going to do any more. So I said yes — my philosophy is that as long as people still want them, I’m going to keep putting them out. So we started work on this second one.
Steve: Was it tough to assemble the creative teams for the second anthology?
Barry: I was obviously nervous about approaching writers and artists about a full-length graphic novel, because it’s a big job. I can’t pay anyone, so everybody involved is doing it because they love the work – any money we make goes back into printing. I don’t take any money at all. Cy was excited to be asked back onboard, and the rest of the creative team from that first Reverend story also said yes to continuing on with the character, which has been brilliant.
Having them agree to come back gave me confidence to ask other people. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be involved in this – in some ways I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Steve: There’s also [I made a flamboyant gesture across the table at this point] a whole range of other things spinning out of the book too, I see. What other storytelling mediums have you been trying out?
Barry: We now have an audio drama with a full cast, as well as an audio book. I’m releasing a DVD collection of everything we put out this year, with the audio drama as well as the books and anthology. There are also special features on the DVD, such as production art. I sold the rights for a TV series – they did a script treatment, but for lots of reasons it never made it to screens – but I still have the original pitch for the show, which is on here too.
My philosophy is to try and get as this story across on as many different mediums as I can. That’s why I made sure that the anthology stands alone from the book, which stands alone from the comics, which stands alone from the audio drama. There are easter eggs across the different projects, and if you pick up everything you’ll get different flavours of everything that’s going on.
Steve: And the second novel will be out next year?
Barry: Hopefully. The novel is the first in a trilogy, and I’ve been working on the second novel. I’m quite a slow writer, but also with everything taking off, I’m very busy! I try to oversee everything, all the different spinoffs, and that does slow me down. I was originally hoping to launch the second novel today!
But I am getting there – I’m on the third draft now, and after that I’ll send it over to test readers. the story is done, and now I’m getting to the point where I’m happy for it to come out.
Many thanks to Barry for taking the time to talk to me. If you’d like to know more, you can visit his website, or find him on Twitter @fhcomic. Because he plans for everything, he also recorded the Thought Bubble panel he appeared on this year, which you can watch in its entirety over here. Phew!
Recently, the ownership of two prominent NYC comics shops has been changed.
§ Over at Bergen Street Comics, it was announced that:
Stone is of course known for his opinionated comics reviews, and has worked behind the counter at Bergen Street for a few years. There’s no one more knowledgeable or passionate about comics, and now he even has skin in the game.
§ At Jim Hanley’s Universe, in Manhattan, there was another Twitter announcement:
That would be Ron Hill and Nick Purpura, who have been managing the store for years. Owner and founder Jim Hanley has become less involved with running the shop in recent years due to health problems, but Hill and Purpura are, once again, about as committed to team comics as they come.
The two are also in a band together, Tryptophan:
Congrats to all involved. While fretting over the future of brick-and-mortar stores selling paper and glue products continues, making strong management decisions to keep things running smoothly in the future is a good sign.
Last weeks’ port strike that closed the L.A.-Long Beach Port, a bunch of IDW titles that were to come out this next week will be delayed until January 2 or, in some cases, January 9, 2013.
Additionally, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE FOOT CLAN #1, originally scheduled for release on December 26, 2012, will be moved to January 9, 2013.
Along with the time lost by the strike at America’s largest cargo shipping complex, the impact of this delay is furthered by the holiday schedule of IDW’s global distributor. As Diamond Comic Distributors does not ship books during the last week of December, IDW will miss out on a last opportunity to get the December 19 and 26 books to retailers and fans before the New Year.
“It’s frustrating to have circumstances be out of our control,” said IDW’s CEO and Publisher Ted Adams. “It’s a shame to be unable to get these books—which were completed well in advance of their ship date—in the hands of fans and retailers. Fortunately, however, we’re still left with a very strong slate of titles to finish out 2012 and lots of great books for everyone to enjoy in the New Year.”
Below is a list of the revised release dates for the titles in question.
Archie: Best of Dan DeCarlo, Vol. 1 TPB
Classic Popeye #5
Joe Palooka #1
Judge Dredd #2
Judge Dredd: The Complete Brian Bolland HC
Locke & Key: Ω #2
Magic: The Gathering – The Spell Thief #3 2nd Print
Mars Attacks #6
Snake Eyes & Storm Shadow #20
Sparrow Box Set
Star Trek 100 Page Winter Spectacular
Star Trek: TNG/Doctor Who: Assimilation2 #8
Star Trek: TNG: Hive #3
TMNT Classics, Vol. 3 TPB
Top 100 Fantasy Movies
Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye #12
True Blood: Where Were You HC
Complete Dick Tracy, Vol. 14 HC
Doctor Who #4
Dungeons & Dragons: Forgotten Realms HC
G.I. JOE: Cobra #20
G.I. JOE/Danger Girl #5
Godzilla: Half-Century War #4
Mars Attacks Popeye One-Shot
My Little Pony #1 2nd Print
My Little Pony #1 Complete Box Set 2nd Print
My Little Pony #2
Star Trek Ongoing #16
Transformers Prime: Rage of the Dinobots #2
Transformers: Robots in Disguise, Vol. 2 TPB
Transformers: Prime Season 2 TPB
Wallace Wood: Woodwork HC
Adventures of Augusta Wind #3
Classic Jurassic Park, Vol. 5 TPB
Classic Popeye #6
G.I. JOE: Cobra Son of the Snake TPB
Gil Kane’s Amazing Spider-Man: Artist’s Edition HC
The Hollows #2
Joe Palooka #2
Li’l Abner, Vol. 5 HC
Love and Capes: What to Expect #6
Mars Attacks Kiss One-Shot
Popeye, Vol. 1 TPB
TMNT Adventures, Vol. 3 TPB
TMNT: Color Classics #7
TMNT: Secret History of the Foot Clan #1
Transformers: Regeneration One #87
Transformers: Robots in Disguise #13
Transformers Spotlight: Thundercracker
The Silver level sponsors for 2013′s Free Comic Book Day have been revealed and it’s an eclectic mix, as usual.
The Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) Committee is pleased to announce the complete list of Gold and Silver Sponsors and their comic books available for FCBD 2013, which will be held Saturday, May 4, 2013. Complete descriptions of all fifty-two FCBD titles can be found online now at www.freecomicbookday.com and in the January issue of Diamond Comic Distributors’ PREVIEWS catalog, available on January 1st, 2013.
“There’s a character, creator and storyline to entertain just about everyone in this year’s lineup,” said FCBD spokesperson Leslie Bowser. “The publishers have a lot to offer comic book fans—and those new to comic books—with this year’s Free Comic Book Day titles.”
Free Comic Book Day 2013: Gold Comics can be seen here.
APE ENTERTAINMENT | KIZOIC PRESENTS: SESAME STREET/STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE
ARCHIE COMICS | THE WORLD OF ARCHIE DIGEST
BONGO COMICS | BONGO COMICS FREE-FOR-ALL! FCBD 2013
BOOM! STUDIOS/KABOOM! | KABOOM! SUMMER BLAST
DARK HORSE COMICS | STAR WARS/CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT/AVATAR
DC COMICS | FCBD 2013 SUPERMAN SPECIAL EDITION
IDW PUBLISHING | TMNT NEW ANIMATED ADVENTURES
IMAGE COMICS | THE WALKING DEAD FCBD 2013 SPECIAL
MARVEL COMICS | MARVEL FCBD 2013: CLASSIFIED!
NBM PUBLISHING/PAPERCUTZ | THE SMURFS
UNITED PLANKTON PICTURES | SPONGEBOB COMICS FREESTYLE FUNNIES
VIZ MEDIA | IT’S THE UGLY DOLL COMIC & OTHER STUFF
Free Comic Book Day 2013: Silver Comics
AAM MARKOSIA | ENDANGERED WEAPON B
ACTION LAB ENTERTAINMENT | MOLLY DANGER/PRINCELESS
ACTION LAB ENTERTAINMENT | NFL RUSH ZONE: SEASON OF THE GUARDIANS
ALTERNA COMICS | FUBAR FCBD 2013 SPECIAL
ANTARCTIC PRESS | ACTION TIME BUDDIES
ARCANA STUDIOS | STEAMPUNK ORIGINALS PRESENTS: THE STEAM ENGINES OF OZ
ARCHAIA ENTERTAINMENT | MOUSE GUARD/RUST FCBD 2013 FLIP BOOK
ARCHIE COMICS | FCBD 2013 SONIC THE HEDGEHOG/MEGA MAN FLIPBOOK
ASPEN COMICS | WORLDS OF ASPEN 2013
AVATAR PRESS | ABSOLUTION: THE BEGINNING
BLEEDING COOL | BLEEDING COOL MAGAZINE FCBD
CAPSTONE COMICS | CAPSTONE PRESENTS: MR. PUZZLE
COMIXTRIBE | THE RED TEN #0
DARK HORSE COMICS | MASS EFFECT/KILLJOYS/R.I.P.D.
DC COMICS | DC NATION SUPER SAMPLER
DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT | DAMSELS
DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT | GRIMM
DRAWN & QUARTERLY | MARBLE SEASON
DRAWN & QUARTERLY | PIPPI LONGSTOCKING COLOR SPECIAL
FANTAGRAPHICS BOOKS | HAL FOSTER’S PRINCE VALIANT
GEMSTONE PUBLISHING | OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK MARKETPLACE
HERMES PRESS | BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY
HERMES PRESS | SCRATCH9 FCBD
IDW PUBLISHING | JUDGE DREDD CLASSICS
IMAGE COMICS | APHRODITE IX
LIQUID COMICS | STAN LEE’S CHAKRA THE INVINCIBLE
LIQUID COMICS | RAMAYAN RELOADED PREVIEW
MARVEL COMICS | AVENGERS ASSEMBLE/HULK AND THE AGENTS OF S.M.A.S.H. #1
NEW ENGLAND COMICS | THE TICK
ONI PRESS | RATED “FREE” FOR EVERYONE STARRING MERMIN & CROGAN’S ADVENTURE
ONI PRESS | THE STRANGERS
PAPERCUTZ | DISNEY FAIRIES
REBELLION | 2000 AD FCBD 2013 SPECIAL
RED 5 COMICS | ATOMIC ROBO & FRIENDS
TH3RD WORLD STUDIOS | FINDING GOSSAMYR / STUFF OF LEGEND
TOP SHELF PRODUCTIONS | TOP SHELF KIDS CLUB
VALIANT ENTERTAINMENT | HARBINGER WARS FCBD 2013 SPECIAL
VALIANT ENTERTAINMENT | VALIANT MASTERS SHOWCASE FCBD 2013 EDITION
VILLARD BOOKS | KELLERMAN / L’AMOUR FCBD 2013 SAMPLER
VIZ MEDIA | SHONEN JUMP PRESENTS: DRAGON BALL/RUROUNI KENSHIN RESTORATION
Well, all week there have been ruffled feathers from retailers following a rather blunt email from Image marketing director Jennifer de Guzman that suggested that second printing of proven sellers were not in the offing. You can read the statement below, retailer ruffled feathers here and some Image creators explaining the thinking in this Robot 6 thread. And now Image publisher Eric Stephenson has spoken and feathers will one suspects be settling back:
Believe it or not, we listen to you.
Just as you use the information provided to you by your customers to place orders for our comics, we use the information we get from you to set our print runs. Like you, we modify the numbers a little bit. We always assume there will be reorders and we make sure to overprint. Most of the time, our final number provides us with just enough inventory to satisfy demand, but more and more frequently, we’ve been selling out.
When we sell out – and more importantly, when you sell out – we know we’re all losing both time and money. It typically takes three weeks to a month to get a second printing to market, and that’s three weeks to a month we all could have been selling more books. That’s frustrating.
It’s doubly frustrating when a book like Saga, a bonafide hit by the creator of Y: The Last Man, Runaways and Pride of Baghdad, Brian K. Vaughan, and his insanely talented collaborator Fiona Staples, continues to sell out even as it gets deeper into its run. We did five printings of issue one, three printings of issue two, and there were second printings of issues three to six. We are, as I type this, preparing to go back to press on the first trade paperback collection.
And like the previous six issues, Saga #7 sold out, and given that orders hadn’t skyrocketed upwards from issue six at FOC, we decided that it was probably time to bring the second printings to a halt. Using the information we had at our disposal – your orders – we figured the generous overprint we did for this issue would satisfy demand.
By “we,” incidentally, I mean “me.”
It was a rash decision made somewhat in haste and a little bit out of frustration, and I think it was that sense of frustration that bled into the retail newsletter our PR & Marketing Director Jennifer de Guzman sent out earlier this week. For those of you who found the tone of that newsletter condescending or abrasive – you have my apologies. In communicating my frustrations to Jen, that inadvertently got passed down to you, and that should’t have been the case. We also should have given you more of a heads up on how we were handling this, so that you weren’t completely blindsided by a sudden change in policy and again, that’s on me.
We can’t go back in time and fix the past, though, so instead, we’re going to move forward.
Like I said up top: We listen to you.
So we’re going to reprint Saga #7, and we’re going to offer that reprint to you at a massive discount.
For the second printing of Saga #7, every account ordering 25 copies or more by its FOC date, will get them at an 80% discount, making your cost per copy right around 60¢. And for anyone ordering fewer than 25, we will be extending Image’s maximum discount to you, regardless of your usual discount.
The order code for the second printing of Saga #7 is NOV128073. FOC will be 12/24, and the in-store date will be 1/16.
We did a pretty hefty overprint on Saga #8, too, but looking at current reorder activity, I’m guessing we won’t hold onto that stock very long. More news on that as it develops, but if we have to reprint that issue, too, we will.
In the mean time, though, we simply cannot reprint every single issue of this series on an indefinite basis, so with the FOC for Saga #9 in the not-too-distant future, I’m going to ask you to help us out and make sure to double-check your orders on that issue when the time comes. I have an advantage here in that I get to see this stuff before you, but I promise you – this series is only going to get better from here. Brian and Fiona have some amazing things planned, and you are not going to be disappointed if you continue to support this series.
Thanks, and again – my apologies for the way my frustration on this issue was communicated. We won’t leave you out of the loop on decisions like this in the future, and in fact – make sure to check out next weekly newsletter for full details on our reprint policy going forward.
Here’s de Guzman’s original which tipped off the kerfuffle:
I have some bad news: SAGA #7 is sold out. Sounds like good news, right? Well, it’s not. First, it means that retailers under-ordered it. And second: We will not be reprinting it. Should we have overprinted? We did. Should we have told you specifically “Order a lot of this one”? Well, did we really need to?
This is SAGA we’re talking about. Issue #7 was its return after a brief hiatus that had fans of the epic byBrian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples as restless as cats in heat and following on the heels of the release of a trade paperback that is moving like wildfire (it’s is still on the New York Times Bestseller list). And its FOC came just two weeks after I quite single-mindedly harangued you about order numbers decreasing with each issue of even our most popular titles, using math. (Math, people!)
What’s even worse news is that orders for SAGA #8 decreased 4% from orders on #7. It will not be reprinted either. We have decided to cease second printings of single issues of titles that are known over-performers in hopes that it will help initial sales find their proper level. That’s marketing-speak for “You know this sells, so you’d better make sure you order enough!”
This isn’t meant as a punishment or some weird scheme to drive up prices of single issues on eBay. The weeks of delay in waiting for the second printing cost you sales. Knowing you can count on reprintings has encouraged caution when none is called for, and that hurts you as much as it does us.
And there’s absolutely no reason why there shouldn’t be more readers of our best-selling titles now that the $1.00 Image Firsts editions of FATALE #1, THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #1, SAGA #1, REVIVAL#1, and THIEF OF THIEVES #1 are available and (should be) in your stores. They’re there to help you evangelize, so spread the good news! (Can I get an “Amen”?)
It’s not empty boasting to say that SAGA is the best new series of 2012 — it’s borne out by review after review, recommendation after recommendation, and when we see sales go down on an issue, we know that there is a problem, and it isn’t with the book itself.
So believe in the titles that sell and believe in your ability to sell them. There might not be a second chance.
Here are some #2s on this week’s FOC list that you may need more of (with even more math!):
CHANGE #2 — Orders presently are 38% lower than orders for the debut issue. If you haven’t read CHANGE #1 yet, please give it a look. Its writer Ales Kot had a breakout hit with WILD CHILDREN this year, and CHANGE taps into the same sensibility.
THE LEGEND OF LUTHER STRODE #2 — Orders are 21% less than orders for #1, which has sold out. This is a known seller by creators whose traction in the industry is growing — Justin Jordan, who also writes Shadowman for Valiant and Tradd Moore, who has drawn a variant Deadpool cover for Marvel and a story in the digital Legends of the Dark Knight for DC.
NON-HUMANS #2 — I know. It’s late, and lateness is a death knell for sales numbers. But! This is the return to Image by Whilce Portacio, and a 33% drop in orders seems a mite steep, considering that NON-HUMANS #1 sold out.
[As part of expanding our coverage on the business end of things, we reached out to one of our retail correspondents on the Image second printing matter, who responded with this.]
What a difference a day makes, and more importantly it seems that at least one publisher has decided to listen to the people who put their product directly into people’s hands on a daily basis. Just a day after the abrasive tone to retailers saying that there would be no more second printings, Image has rescinded their position, albeit slightly.
We love Image Comics, don’t get us wrong. They have done some INCREDIBLE things for retailers recently. One of our favorites is that for some titles, if you order a specific amount they will allow all the copies to be made returnable. That way we can order a healthy amount of a new series without feeling we are being overly committed. It allows us to keep a nice amount on the shelf and give it as much exposure as possible. We don’t know how well this strategy has worked for Image but we hope it has been profitable.
What a lot of people, and mainly publishers, forget is that retailers have to play the role of a fortune teller every month. When a new book comes out we have to, essentially, guess how popular it’s going to be. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes it goes horribly wrong. It’s part of the business. But punishing a retailer (and ultimately the consumer) by not offering a second printing for key titles when that initial run has sold out is ridiculous. It’s not our job to get the printing numbers right, it’s the publisher’s.
We, and many other retailers, use a point of sales system that tracks our sale trends. It’s a life saver to say the least (and if you are a retailer that doesn’t use one, we highly suggest rethinking that strategy). We will use those sales numbers as a basis when ordering following issues. Usually this works pretty well. But, say a book starts to gain in popularity; you’re hand selling it like crazy, the trade is a huge hit and people want to catch up, etc. These will all lead to new readers. We try to account for that sort of thing but we can only do so much.
For most books we won’t order a ton of extra copies in the hopes that they’ll eventually sell. We do what we can based on our data and ultimately if we over order, we’re the ones who pay the price. Image is a business too, we get that, but not allowing second printings for certain books will not lead to a heavy increase in initial orders, we guarantee it. It’s ultimately a lose-lose. If you feel like a particular issue is going to be huge and you think we should order more then get on the phone or send us an e-mail, we’ll listen. We will take all the help we can get when it comes to ordering.
BTW, just to round things out, Here’s Image creator Nick Spencer’s explanation
of why second printings are an expensive proposition from a creator’s viewpoint:
What’s getting lost here is the good news– this past year, we’ve seen the needle move significantly in terms of the sales of creator-owned books. There is a positive, fast-moving trend-line here, and it says if you produce quality, original work, you can find a home in the current marketplace. That’s something we should all be celebrating right now, and something I’m very thankful to our retail community for.
Now, that said, I worry this conversation is devolving into finger-pointing: “You’re not ordering enough,” versus “You’re not printing enough.” And both sides have cases to make. However, I’d point out that some folks aren’t quite grasping how the Image model works. The publisher isn’t the one taking the risk when it overprints– the creators are (at least for the most part). We get paid based on sales, after costs. More printing equals more costs. Significant costs. So upping print runs can mean working for free for years instead of months, and in some cases, not getting paid at all. That’s just not going to be feasible for most creators.
So let’s be sure to be fair about who’s being asked to do what in this instance. And it gets more complicated than that. You’re asking the creator to overprint, but they have no control over the sales, end of the day. For instance, Creator A says, my trade is coming out, but orders are down on the single issue that comes out a week later. Should they overprint? We all do, by 10-20 percent, but more? Well, you’re making not one but two leaps of faith there– one is that you’re right about the consumer demand. Fine, we believe in the work, go for it. But the second is that x number of retailers will go back and re-order when their shelf copies run out. This is by no means a given. Plenty will just take the sell-through and move on. That’s a very scary risk, and remember, you’re taking it 1000 or so times, because you’re not assuming it for one retailer, you’re assuming it for all of them.
And that’s maybe the most important part, which is the risk mitigation. For a retailer, let’s say there are two dozen, maybe three dozen creator-owned single issue books you might be under-ordering on by a handful of copies– the shelf copies are gone, a couple people have asked about it, etc. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that’s a very real, dollar amount risk, upping the numbers there. But it’s also done within the context of a broader inventory that you’ve designed by nature to absorb some risk– no one gets their orders right all the time, obviously. It’s done with additional options in reserve to at least recoup some potential loss– discounts, dollar bins, buy two get one free deals, etc.
For the creator, however– this one book might very well be all they have. There is no broader base to absorb the loss if one is incurred. There’s no backup plan, and again, you’re doing it in huge, huge numbers. It’s the difference between playing a couple chips and going all in.
Which is, again, not to minimize the difficult spot the retailer is in. I mean, that’s what this all really comes down to– I’ve worked with too many great retailers to think any numbers drop on a book comes from malice, laziness, or ineptitude. It comes from everyone involved having very tough decisions to make with their very limited resources. I’m just trying to explain, from my perspective, why 50 percent overprints are not happening. The risk simply can’t be taken or absorbed by the creators– the books, and this model even, would simply cease to exist, end of story. That much I am absolutely certain of.
But there’s a second part to this that I suspect is far, far more important. I have always approached creator-owned work with the primary goal being to create something that’s lasting, and sustainable, for years. That means lots of things: no fill-in, inconsistent art. The story is the number of pages it needs to be. Double-sized first issues at standard cover, with 99 cent reprints and free digital samplers. $9.99 first trades with a lot of pages. These things are big-time loss leaders. We do them because the goal is not to grab cash, slump, cancel, and relaunch/do something else. We’re playing a long game, and try to do things that help retailers build a consistent, long-lasting product for their shelves.
The simple reality, though, is the market is not really built around books that take this approach. All the focus is put on first issues, first arcs– big, quick returns. Most comics are published with this mind, but many Image books aren’t. And when you apply the ordering patterns of a “sprinter” book to a “marathon” book, well– it doesn’t usually serve you well on the latter. Cutting orders after a skip month sends a message that it would be better to do a fill-in; but we all know that, long-run, those fill-ins will stand out and detract from the overall book and the collections, having negative sales impacts long term. Not upping (or even cutting) orders after a trade release means the book is on a dangerous path to becoming a collection-only purchase, rather than using the trade to move readers over to singles.
The bottom line is the ordering pattern, the marketing approach, the pricing, the schedule– it really does differ depending on what your goals are in terms of the lifespan of the work. And this something that we all– retailers, publishers, and creators need to talk about, because it cuts to the core of what we’re making and selling. Are we pushing out disposable, flash in the pan impulse buys, or are we trying to build stories that can last for years? My sincere hope is that we continue to see more of the latter, but making that happen will require new ideas and new solutions so that we’re in all the best position possible to serve our customers and our readers.
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After Image’s Jennifer De Guzman played bad cop, and publisher Eric Stephenson played good cop, Image has released a new set of guidelines to retailers about reprints that walks right down the middle. You can read the whole thing below, but it does offer some pretty significant incentives for retailers to order strong on certain books—not to get too techy, but when the first issue after a collection of some titles comes out, Image will offer a discount if a certain number of copies are ordered over the previous issue. Also, the first three issues of several new series will be returnable—that’s got to be a big incentive for retailers.
Image has a blockbuster 2012 creatively and sales-wise, and being able to offer retailer incentives on issues past #1 is a big part of keeping things that way.
Greetings, retail partners!
As promised in the letter we sent out regarding Saga #7, I wanted take a few moments to further explain our reprint policy.
First off, “policy” is a terribly impersonal word, and honestly, I don’t sit here and think of each decision as “policy.” Like you, I’m just looking for the best way forward, and hoping that it doesn’t take us two steps back.
Now to set things straight from the start, I want to assure you we are absolutely NOT doing what some other publishers have done in the past and laying down a hard and fast rule that says we will no longer reprint sold-out comics.
We just announced that we’re going back to press on a number of recent comics – the first issues of Blackacre , I Love Trouble, The Legend of Luther Strode and Nowhere Men; the latest issues of Great Pacific and Bedlam – and like you, I think it’s pretty essential that we keep printing books like that as long as there’s a demand for them. Every retailer I talk to has told me how difficult it is to gauge demand for new material from new talent, and we definitely take that into account. If it helps build the audience for these new titles, that’s good for all us.
The thing we can’t do, though, is just reprint everything indefinitely.
That was the problem with Saga: We’d reprinted the first six issues already, and it was beginning to look – to us, anyway, or at the very least, to me – like the reprints were becoming a kind of crutch. Looking at the way that particular book was selling out every issue, despite both overprints and a proliferation of new printings, it just seemed like we weren’t building any momentum on something that, by all indications, should have been doing exactly that.
From my perspective, barring extraordinary circumstances, reprinting later issues of a book just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We did this with the issues of The Walking Dead surrounding issue 100, but I think that qualifies as one of those exceptional circumstances. Issue 97 was not just the first issue after the most recent trade paperback, but also the first issue following the second compendium – and on top of that, the beginning of the storyline leading into our monster 100th issue. We did a big overprint on those issues and still sold out, so it only made sense to go back to press.
If we were doing that on every issue of The Walking Dead from there on out, though, that would be a problem, just as it would be if every book was selling out and being reprinted on an ongoing basis.
So, what we’re going to promise you is that when circumstances dictate that something needs to be reprinted to meet demand: We’ll do that, but we’re not going to just reprint everything as a matter of course. As “policy” goes, I think that’s pretty straightforward.
To ensure that those circumstances are few and far between, though, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure you’ve got the information you need to order as many copies as you can sell or use to entice potential customers to give something new a try.
We’ll continue to offer incentives on new series that allow you to order with confidence. From Fatale #1 in January to Mara #1 this month, we’ve made the first three issues of our a dozen new series completely returnable to accounts hitting certain sales plateaus. Some of you have said determining those plateaus needs to be fine-tuned, so we’ll do that in an effort to make the whole process even easier, but the bottom line is that we want you to be able to get on this stuff upfront, so that none of us have to wait weeks for a new printing of anything, unless it’s really a unique situation.
And when it comes to some of our bigger or longer-running titles that are launching into new story arcs following the release of a trade paperback collection – as was the case with Saga #7 – we are going to see if we can create some incentives that allow you to bring in a greater quantity of those “bridge issues,” so that you can convert some of your trade waiters to monthly customers, or have an easy sell to someone who is just discovering the series through the trade.
Cases in point:
Chew #31 is the first issue of that series following the sold-out issue 30, and the first issue to follow the sixth trade. As writer John Layman tells us, it’s first issue of the second half of the series. We’re going to give everyone who orders that book at 125% of issue 30 another 10% off their order at FOC.
Revival #6 is the first issue of that title following the release of the first trade paperback collection. We sold out of four printings of the first issue, three printings of the second issue and we’ve gone back to press on the others, plus we’ve got a $9.99 introductory trade out there for anyone interested in dipping their toes into the dark waters writer Tim Seeley and artist Mike Norton are exploring with this critically acclaimed new series.
So we’re going to give everyone who orders Revival #6 at 125% of issue 5 another 10% off their order at FOC.
We’ll run more incentives like this in the months to come, because while we’re always excited to launch new series and do what we can to push those, I think it’s important that we all recognize that it’s more beneficial to all of us that we promote above and beyond the first issue.
In the meantime, and to follow up on what I said in my recent letter about Saga #7, we do listen to you. In fact, only a few weeks back, Jennifer included a poll in this very newsletter asking some pertinent questions about promotional materials. We only received a smattering of responses to that poll, but the info we got, we paid attention to. We always appreciate any feedback, but honestly – the more we hear from you all, the better.
Thanks, and if there’s anyway at all we can be of help in the future – just let us know.